YUCAIPA, Calif. Desperate, Ishmael decided to commit suicide. Life in Honduras was too hard for someone without sight. He’d tried attending a school for the blind to increase his chances for a job, but too many bad things kept happening. Then, on the day he chose to die, Ishmael met a missionary. The man gave Ishmael a hot meal and built him a small one-room cement house in which to live.
Over time, Ishmael put his faith in Christ, but he needed a Spanish Braille Bible to help him grow in his faith. The price tag though, about $1,200, was too steep. After much searching, the missionary finally found three Braille books of the Bible in a used bookstore for $100. Knowing they would give Ishmael access to some of God’s Word, the missionary bought them. Then, when he came home on furlough, he did an Internet search hoping to locate an entire Bible. That’s when he discovered Lutheran Braille Workers.
According to LBW’s president, the Rev. Dr. Phillip Pledger, Ishmael is one of an estimated 162 million blind or visually impaired people worldwide. While missionaries typically offer Bibles to those they encounter, “when they come across a blind person, they don’t know what to do.”
Sharon Harris, a part-time missionary, documented her concern in a letter to Lutheran Braille Workers. When asked to find Braille Bibles for three blind brothers in Mexico, she thought the task impossibleuntil she called a friend with a blind teen-age son. That friend recommended the Christian nonprofit LBW.
Pamela Spock wrote describing how she helped build a house for a blind family; while on a mission trip to Ecuador.
“Their suffering and extreme poverty was only recently discovered by the local Spanish church, who was helping them get on the road to a better life,” she said, adding that she wanted to put Scripture in their hands. She found the Lutheran organization through a search engine.
The Blind Society in Sierra Leone contacted LBW as well. They asked for help to spread the gospel of salvation to kids at the Blind School in Makeni. Of these children, 90 percent are Muslim.
Bringing light into the darkness
Established in 1943, Pledger said LBW distributes free Braille Bibles to anyone who needs them, anywhere in the world. Requests for more than 500,000 volumes a year come from individuals and organizations in more than 120 countries.
The Yucaipa-based ministry uses nearly 5,100 volunteers in almost 200 work centers across the United States and Canada to fill those requests, Pledger said. Formed through Lutheran congregations, these centers might have as few as six volunteers or as many as 200.
“We have volunteers from every denomination under the suneven some folks who may not be affiliated with religious churches,” he said, adding that Lions Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Methodists, Quakers, Roman Catholics and many others participate in manufacturing Braille and large print Bibles.
For English requests, LBW supplies the NIV version, but every other language has its own translation, the ministry president said. “We have Estonian, Spanish, Portuguese, Frenchwe have products in 30 different languages.”
The process is much more labor intensive than traditional Bible publishing since each Braille Bible requires 37 volumes, sometimes produced at different work centers.
“When a person orders a Bibleno matter where they are in the worldthey get two or three volumes rather immediately. We send those from the home office. The rest of the Bible is manufactured to order. Page by page, volunteers take a piece of Braille paper and put it into a zinc master that folds over the paper with Braille dots on both sides of the zinc. The paper then goes through basically a washing machine roller press and gets embossed into the paper.”
Once finished, volumes are collated, bound, and shipped directly from the work center to the person who made the request.
“So, it may take up to nine months for a person to receive a whole Bible,” he said.
To the ends of the earth
One volunteer, Pamela Buhler from Keller, Texas, said participating in the ministry provides a vital opportunity to invest in God’s Kingdom.
“Printing Braille Bibles at my church and shipping them to ‘all ends of the earth’ brings great joy to my life,” she said. “I know that God is using me right where I am in America to help fulfill the Great Commission. ... I believe we are called to print Braille that tells the love of Jesus, points out the path to heaven, and offers life and peace to all.”
Pledger said he hopes to extend the reach of LBW efforts even more. In September he’s taking a trip to Estonia that will include Lithuania, Latvia and maybe Poland. He also hopes to “get over to the Ukraine as rumor has it that many blind people are there due to the Chernobyl explosion.”
Next year, his itinerary may include India.
“We need to connect more face-to-face with people around the world,” he said. “Money has been so tight, though, (that) we haven’t dared do that. But I’ve decided that you’ve got to step out in faith. Somehow if God wants us to go, the money will show up.”
For more information on the ministry, visit www.lbwinc.org.